Friday Book Whimsy: The Lions of Fifth Avenue

I love to learn things while reading an enjoyable novel. I have learned more about some of the landmarks of New York City from author Fiona Davis than I would have if I had read a history book on the magnificent city. Did you know, for example, that there was once an art school in Grand Central Station? I learned that in The Masterpiece, by the same author. Did you know that cattle used to graze outside of the Dakota Apartments, home to many famous people? You would if you had read The Address.

I certainly had no idea that there was once an apartment inside the enormous New York City Public Library where the superintendent of the library could reside with the family. The apartment still exists, in fact, though it is apparently no longer used as an apartment.

NYC’s main library is located on Fifth Avenue and guarded by the famous sculpted lions. In 1913, Laura Lyons and her family move to New York City from their quiet home in the country where her husband is the superintendent. His job allows them to live in the apartment hidden deep within the library. It’s a big change for the family, but not as big as the one that Laura seeks. She dreams of attending the Columbia School of Journalism and becoming a journalist.

With the help of family and friends, she manages to come up with the money for the year-long program. She not only learns how to investigate and write a story, she learns that there are women who have so much more freedom than she ever has. Laura gets caught up in the excitement, and it changes her life — and the lives of her family — immensely.

At the same time, some priceless books and manuscripts go missing, and everything points to her husband being the culprit. Laura knows this can’t be true, but is too caught up in her new life to take it as seriously as she might.

In the back-and-forth style so popular these days, the author also introduces us to Laura’s granddaughter Sadie, who is also a librarian at the same library in 1993. Ironically, she must also deal with books and manuscripts that are going missing, and she is a prime suspect. While trying to figure out what’s going on, she learns that a similar thing happened to her grandfather. Could the two things be related?

I will admit that this was not my favorite of Fiona Davis’ novels. That prize goes to The Chelsea Girls, a novel about the McCarthy hearings. But as a lover of books, and a HUGE fan of libraries, I found the book references interesting, and the clear love of literature shown by the main characters heart-warming.

Part mystery, part romance, part women’s fiction, The Lions of Fifth Avenue makes for a decent read.

Here is a link to the book.